On our “declaring” that we’re white allies

Justice Walks has a new post up that speaks to some of what we’re trying to do here at this blog. 

I’ve declared myself “ally,” precisely in this patriarchal context. Thanks, Justice Walks, for pointing that out.  It should have been a no-brainer! But, as I’m learning here, our white privilege has served to blind us to the obvious, effectively and repeatedly. 

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From discourse to action

I started digging around the net to see what anti-racist actions I can do. There are a couple of articles that I’m linking to here. Interestingly, the woman I’m quoting, Catherine Jones, suggests to white people who want to be useful to look for the “less sexy” duties that are so needed by individual women of color, such as child care so that they can do their OWN work for for their OWN liberation:

The Work Is Not The Workshop: Talking and Doing, Visibility and Accountability in the White Anti-Racist Community, by Catherine Jones

“After I started going to lots of anti-racist workshops, I spent a lot of time pondering where exactly it was that I fit into the whole anti-racist picture. At the same time a whole bunch of low-income women of color weren’t even able to get to their meeting a few blocks away ’cause no one was around to watch their kids. A few friends and I decided to start a group that provides childcare for meetings and events held by people-of-color-led organizations in our city. We showed up consistently and we took considerable direction from the moms around the tone, goals and rules of the childcare. At the same time, we also spent a lot of time as a group developing our own principles- around childcare, our group structure, strategies for leadership development, and standards around which groups we would support and why. I learned a lot from that experience about taking leadership from people of color, and developing my own anti-racist principles and sticking to them, and about the variety of ways in which white folks can be in legitimate solidarity with people of color who are fighting for liberation.

Interestingly, when I was working with the childcare collective, one of the biggest challenges we faced as an organization was around getting a group of high profile mostly male white anti-racists to take childcare seriously. Even though in larger anti-racist circles childcare had come to be recognized as legitimate political work, we ran into consistent issues with people who had committed to do childcare regularly but who were ‘too busy’ when we actually called them. One person even told me he thought he had moved ‘beyond’ doing childcare; that childcare was a good introductory activity for people getting to know more about anti-racism, but that he had surpassed that level. This opened up a whole lot of questions to me about where the priorities lie in the white anti-racist community.

Lots of white anti-racists talk about how doing anti-racist work means often taking on the tasks that are ‘not sexy.’ Yet our same community, which advises doing the unsexy work, continues to reward the work that is more high-profile and glamorous. We probably know at least a little bit about the work of folks who put on workshops and travel around the country speaking about racism. This is important work. But what do we hear about the tons of people who even now are driving the family members of a prisoner to visit their incarcerated relative, or making phone calls to housing project residents to let them know when the next community meeting is, or providing translation at an organizing meeting so that recent immigrants can participate in a cross-race struggle for workers’ rights?

That white anti-racist culture places such strong rewards on high-visibility work, like conducting workshops or speaking and writing about racism, while it ignores other aspects of anti-racist work, is dangerous for a variety of reasons. Most obviously, this dynamic contributes to an overall sentiment that if we talk about or think about being anti-racist we are in fact being anti-racist. This idea, in turn, can help to create an anti-racist culture that puts more importance on talking and learning about the work than on actually doing it. An overwhelming critique from organizers of color who work alongside white folks in struggle is that white folks talk too much and do too little. If we are to be truly accountable to revolutionaries of color we need to create a culture that prizes the doing, as much as we prize our abilities to educate each other. Both are crucial if we want to build an effective movement. Look around, is what I finally realized. There are as many, if not more, ways for white anti-racists to plug into the struggle for racial justice as there are white anti-racists.’

And, from Paul Kivel, who suggests some of the “sexier,” more visible actions in his article, Accountability: Who Benefits from Our Work?

– fight for affirmative action
– fight for immigrant rights
– fight against environmental dumping in communities of color
– fight against police brutality
– fight for access to health care
– fight for anti-racist policies and practices in our own workplaces

If not discourse, then … what, exactly?

lower-ninth-ward-twenty-months-after-katrina.jpg

 

Following up on Maia’s response to a commenter, Barbara Karens, who had commented the day before on my post here quoting Jeff Hitchcock, I would like to ask you, Barbara …

– if you hate white supremacy, and if so,
– if you engage in action (not discourse) to help end it, and if so,
– if you can describe your action, and
– if you would like to make constructive suggestions, or
– if you would like to point us to any constructive discourse (!) that might inspire us toward constructive action?

I am asking these questions sincerely. What kind of actions will promote justice better than whites talking to whites to end supremacy?

Amy models one way to confront everyday racism …

We know how hard it is when we’re unexpectedly hit with a racist action or statement, and we need to think quickly to come up with the most effective way to confront it. Amy over at feminist reprise has a neat post up; she tells about her decision-making process when a classmate recently created a racist painting for a class assignment:

During the next class meeting, my classmate displayed her progress on her project; she was designing not simply icons, but a series of 8.5 x 11 full-color illustrations to go along with the various aspects of her business (part of which involves illustration).

I was really anxious as she displayed and talked about the first illustration in her project, which was partially completed–a painting of the head and face of an African woman gazing into the distance, wearing a headcloth, with a stone carving or a piece of pottery in the foreground, and a border of leopard skin pattern around the entire thing. While my white classmates and instructor were complimentary, making helpful suggestions, I couldn’t think of anything positive to say. While I churned in silence, a discussion ensued of appropriate ink colors for the text to accompany the illustration. I sat there in a rage, barely able to breathe, asking myself, ‘Am I going to say something? Am I not going to say something? Will I be able to live with myself if I don’t say something? I’m so mad, how can anything I say be constructive?’

After a while, the instructor turned to me and said something like, ‘Do you have any thoughts?’

It’s hard to think exactly what to say, or how; check out what Amy did here. It’s good reading …

This reminds me of something I said, over a year ago, and it was probably less effective. A co-worker was planning a Russian adoption, and explained that her parents were the reason she was traveling so far for a baby, rather than adopting locally, where white infants are not normally available. She said something to this effect: “My parents would have big issues with my adopting a baby of another race.” I answered: “Oh, are your parents racists?” Her reply was, “Of course not!” Transnational adoptions are problematic; I think they are so common due to racism. I know it’s a complex, many-layered issue. And I’m not sure if what I said was the best thing, in that circumstance. I’d be interested in what other think about it.